Latimer Loves Working with the Technology Side of Planning

Faculty Profile – Stanley Latimer, Urban and Regional Planning

Stanley Latimer, Urban and Regional Planning Lecturer, enjoys using GIS to not only look at today’s conditions, but also to use it to possibly predict future scenarios.

1. How did you discover urban planning?

“I was a geography major at the University of Georgia and I’ve always had an interest in maps. So that got me interested in urban planning. After I graduated I worked for a while, but decided to go back to graduate school. At first, I was considering soil science because I had an interest in more of a scientific approach to planning. Soil science at UF had a planning-related track at the time.

Then, I learned about the urban and regional planning graduate program. I went and talked to Earl Starnes, who was the chair at the time. I decided to get a master’s in URP.

I really enjoyed all my classes, but was hesitant to take the computer based or GIS classes. There was one professor in particular, John Alexander, who taught a lot of the technology and GIS classes. To tell you the truth, I was sort of afraid of the technology classes. At the time I thought he was a bit intimidating. I don’t know why I thought that. I ended up waiting until the very last semester to take his GIS classes, but it was like the light turned on. It was like, ‘Okay. With GIS, I can do planning. I can work with maps. I can do spatial analysis. I can do all the things that I really like to do.’ It was like, why didn’t I do this sooner?

After I graduated from URP, I was working for a consulting firm doing planning. I decided to come back and get a second master’s degree in computer science. I came back and worked with Dr. Alexander and Paul Zwick. That’s how I got going in GIS. Following graduation I worked in mapping and GIS-related jobs. I was the cartographer for the City of Atlanta for a while. I worked my way up to Planner III, mainly doing GIS work. I was able to get a job in Alachua County working on a GIS project, so that’s how I got back to Gainesville. There was a research and teaching position open here at the university in 1992. I was lucky enough to get that position, and I’ve been here ever since.”

2. What about urban planning are you passionate about?

“My passion is in the technology side of planning. It is being able to work with data and analyze it because that is going to be the basis for a lot of your policy decisions. It is being able to analyze the data and create the maps, so that the policymakers can understand what their decisions are going to impact and how what they decide now may impact things down the road.

GIS allows you to not only look at conditions as they are now, but through modeling be able to perhaps predict what is going to happen in the future given certain scenarios. In other words, if we don’t do the right thing now, we may be looking at definite problems in the future.”

3. What has been your most memorable class and research project? Is there anything you’re working on right now?

“I’ve been teaching the same class ever since Dr. Zwick handed it over to me. It’s the introductory GIS class: Survey of Planning Information Systems. I’ve really enjoyed that class over the years because of the students.

It’s amazing how the students come in and a lot of them are actually scared of computers, if you can believe that in this day and age. But then, it’s like a light turns on and all of a sudden, they get it. They start thinking spatially. It is always amazing to see students who really get into and take off with GIS, becoming GIS nerds.

One of my main research projects was with radon, an odorless, colorless gas that is prevalent here in Florida because it comes from limestone. There is phosphorous associated with limestone, and it gives off radon gas which you can’t smell or see. If the soil underneath your house has a lot of geological material that is giving off radon gas and seeping into your house, it can cause cancer. We looked at being able to map radon potential statewide in the 1980s.

A bigger project was hurricane wind speed mapping in 2011. With that, I think I talked to the every code enforcement official for every single county in the state of Florida, all 67 counties. I had to create hurricane wind speed maps, three different types of maps, for every county in the state.

These maps indicated how different building types must meet the building codes for certain wind speed levels. It was important because they were using this information for code enforcement for any new construction. Basically, if you’re in coastal counties with high wind speed potential, you have to use extra materials and special construction features for a building to try to minimize damage. You have to have special roof shingles that don’t blow off, windows that can withstand a two-by-four hitting them dead-on, window shutters and different construction techniques that are going to mitigate damage from these high-speed winds. The extra construction requirements decrease as you get to the interior counties, but it’s still very important because of the potential for hurricane damage statewide. With these maps local officials could actually see how the building codes needed to be enforced.”

4. What is the best part of your job?

“The best part of my job is working with the students. It’s teaching and seeing them start to understand how they can use GIS. There are a lot of students that are in my classes that are not in the college (DCP), but are coming from engineering or other disciplines because they want to learn more about planning.

A lot of times, students from other disciplines, don’t really understand spatial relationships. Maybe they’re good with computers, but they don’t really understand when you start looking at the relationships between something as simple as a fire hydrant, a street, a waterline and a house.

Especially for planning, it’s so important to be able to understand spatial relationships. Even in other disciplines, almost everybody worries about location.”

5. What is your favorite thing about the UF College of Design, Construction and Planning?

“I think it’s a very collegial faculty. It is like family, we may not always agree on everything, but we all get along and are willing to work together.

We are able to work on research with faculty outside our units and across the college as well as across the university. URP is in the School of Landscape Architecture and Planning, so we work closely with the landscape architecture faculty. Currently, I’m working with construction management.

I’m working on a small research project with Ajay Shanker, faculty in construction management, and Bill O’Dell in the Shimberg Center for Housing Studies. We’re looking at developing an online application for analyzing potential hurricane-related damage where you would be able to identify a property, generate a buffer around that property and be able to calculate a summary of property values. What we’re going for is if a hurricane is coming in and we put the track on a map, the application will automatically calculate potential damage loss.

It’s just the opportunity for collaborative research. Of course, there’s also the fact that there are so many resources around this campus. I’ve met so many people across campus. I feel like if I need help in something that I don’t know anything about, there is always somebody I can call who is an expert. It always makes life easier if you’re trying to answer a question. There’s always an expert around who can help.”

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